3.3.3 Palm Tree: Righteousness
Volume 3: Living Symbols—Chapter 3.3
Palm Tree: Righteousness
You may have noticed that these symbolic attributes seldom happen in isolation. As often as not, we find them juxtaposed with others in scripture—the combinations serving to multiply, intensify, and clarify their effect. For example, we just looked at the meaning of the cedar tree: strength—something that can be a good thing or not, depending upon how it’s used, a vehicle for achieving great good, or an enticement to pride. So let us begin our discussion of the palm tree by reprising a passage we visited previously. “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of Yahweh; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that Yahweh is upright. He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” (Psalm 92:12-15) The ones who “flourish in the courts of our God” are not only strong (by virtue of their relationship with the Almighty), but they’re also righteous (again, not on their own, but in the uprightness, the righteousness, derived from Yahweh). Strength without righteousness leads to tyranny, but righteousness without strength is unsustainable. Only in the house of Yahweh do both attributes merge in symbiotic alacrity.
Palm trees and cedars do not ordinarily grow together. Cedars prefer the cool, moist climes of their mountain strongholds, a recurring Biblical metaphor for power or authority. But date palms are different. They grow and thrive in the wilderness—the place of preparation. They congregate only where water is available, even if it’s not evident to the untrained eye. Their very presence defines the “oasis,” an island in the desert where restoration and refreshing might be found. The righteous of Yahweh are much the same: they mark the source of living water for a thirsty world. If lost and thirsty people seek out the “palm trees” standing in God’s oasis—that is, the righteous—they’ll find the means of cleansing and restoration. It’s not the palm trees themselves, but that in which they’re rooted, making them productive, “still bearing fruit in old age…ever full of sap, and green.” To the wise desert traveler, palm trees are always a welcome sight. Strangely, that’s not always the case with the righteous in this world. This says a great deal about the mental state of those who go out of their way to avoid them. Are they ashamed to admit they’re thirsty? Or have they merely seen one too many “mirages”—nominal Christians who, though righteous in their own eyes, bear no fruit in their lives?
Christians traditionally celebrate something they call “Palm Sunday.” It marks an extremely significant event in the life and ministry of Yahshua, but it didn’t occur on a Sunday, and the vast majority of Christians remain clueless concerning the prophetic Torah precept that Yahshua fulfilled on this day. Moses was told by Yahweh to “Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month [i.e., Nisan, the first month of the Jewish calendar—in the spring] every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.” (Exodus 12:3-6) This was a prelude to the Passover. The lamb was to come into the household of every Israelite family on the tenth day of Nisan, and remain until the fourteenth, when it would be slain—its blood being applied to the doorposts and lintels of the Israelites’ homes to indemnify them from the unwanted attentions of the angel of death.
Palm “Sunday” marks Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, less than a week before His passion. You can track the timeline in the Gospel of Mark. Working backward from the day of the crucifixion (which fulfilled the Passover sacrifice) on Nisan 14—Friday, April 1, 33 A.D.—we find that the triumphal entry took place not on the previous Sunday, but on Monday, Nisan 10, i.e., March 28. The event thus fulfills the requirement that the Passover Lamb must be “brought into the household of Israel” for inspection on that very date. He was crucified only after Pontus Pilate had declared the Lamb to be “without fault or blemish.” The chief priests, of course, didn’t arrange the parade stretching halfway to Bethlehem for Yahshua’s benefit. Their purpose was to bring the chosen lamb (the four-footed one) into Jerusalem for the upcoming Passover celebration. Yahshua merely “retasked” the proceedings to reveal their true meaning. Poetic!
The date of “Palm Monday,” the triumphal entry, also fulfills another prophecy—the amazingly detailed timeline presented in Daniel 9. “Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. The street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times. And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself.” (Daniel 9:25-26) The clock started ticking in the month of Nisan (presumably the first day), 444 B.C. The prophesied “command to restore and build Jerusalem” is recorded in Nehemiah 2:1-6. Note that the term “years” is never used. The prophecy is given in terms of 360-day “times” and “weeks” (or “sevens”) of these time units. 7 + 62 of these “sevens” (adding up to 69 of them) is therefore 173,880 days (69 x 360 x 7), which works out to 476 solar years and 25 days inclusive, i.e., to precisely the 10th of Nisan (March 28) A.D. 33. And you thought God was making this stuff up as He went along? Hardly.
All four Gospel narratives record the scene (which ought to give us some idea of its significance). Matthew describes it like this: “The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and He sat on them.” This fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. “Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” Three of the four Gospel writers fail to specify what kind of “tree branches” were laid down, but John (in 12:13) informs us that they were palm fronds. This makes perfect sense, of course, since they lay flat on the ground: their purpose (as with the clothes) was to “cushion” the road in honor of the One treading it. “And the crowds that went before Him and that followed Him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of Yahweh! Hosanna in the highest!’ And when He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’” (Matthew 21:6-11) The crowds, of course, were totally unaware that Yahshua was there to personify the Passover Lamb. They thought it was all just a happy coincidence. In fact, before the week was out, some of these same people would be calling for His crucifixion. The Passover scenario would play out just as Yahweh had ordained. And we whose “houses” (our lives) had been sprinkled (through our trust) with the blood of the Lamb would once again be spared.
What, then, do the palm fronds that were spread before the Messiah signify? If, as we have observed from Psalm 92, palm trees are a symbol of righteousness, then a stunning truth begins to emerge. Our own righteousness, it appears, must be sublimated to—made subservient to—that of our Redeemer. It doesn’t matter if we’re “better” than our neighbors: before Yahweh, we’re still sinners, estranged from Him. In fact, even the best behavior in the world is not enough to reconcile ourselves to Him. Yahshua warned us, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) Say what you will about the scribes and Pharisees, their overt conduct was unassailable, beyond reproach—even within a society that knew and attempted to practice God’s statutes. (Such “success” at personal righteousness would be even harder to achieve in our corrupt culture.) But it wasn’t good enough. No, even our behavioral perfection (such as it is) must be laid at the feet of Yahshua. Actually, it’s even worse than that—it must be laid at the feet of Yahshua’s borrowed donkey. Ouch.
As long as we’re considering “spiritual paving materials,” let us also look at the meaning of the clothing laid on the roadway. Matthew notes, “Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road.” Clothing (as we’ll discover much later) indicates “the way God sees us.” Scripture is peppered with symbolic allusions to our garments (or lack of them), whether the nakedness of Adam and Eve after their sin, their pitiful attempt to clothe themselves with fig leaves, or the garments of innocent animal skins Yahweh made for them. Cool, white linen is often used to denote imputed righteousness, and hot, scratchy wool indicates trying to work for God’s favor. Here at the triumphal entry of the Messiah into Jerusalem, the people spread out their cloaks—whatever they were made of—upon the road in honor of the “Prophet” from Galilee. As with the palm fronds, this indicated (whether the crowd comprehended it or not) that the way God sees us is His call, not ours. We must be willing to let God be God—that is, surrender the prerogatives of deity (like deciding how we look as we stand before Him) to Yahweh. In case you haven’t noticed, He is the first to point out when “the emperor has no clothes.” And it is He (in the person of Yahshua the Messiah) who will clothe His bride, the called-out church, in “fine linen, clean and bright—the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:8)
The first mention of palm trees in the Bible is this “travel itinerary” entry for the Israelite wilderness pilgrims: “Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water.” (Exodus 15:27) This is significant mostly for its context: it happened not long after their little Red Sea adventure. If you’ll recall (we covered it a few dozen pages back) three days later, they were thirsty, and the pillar of cloud—one of Yahweh’s “Shekinah” manifestations—led them to a place that had water, but it was bitter. So God instructed Moses to throw a log into Marah’s waters, and they were sweetened. The whole thing was an elaborate object lesson designed to teach the Israelites to trust the God who had delivered them in the first place: He had no intention of leading them out into the desert just to see them die of thirst. Rather, as Moses reports, “There Yahweh made for them a statute and a rule, and there He tested them, saying, ‘If you will diligently listen to the voice of Yahweh your God, and do that which is right in His eyes, and give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am Yahweh, your healer.’” (Exodus 15:25-26) Only then did Yahweh lead them to a real oasis, one with twelve water springs (read: restoration and cleansing sufficient for all twelve tribes) and seventy date palms. Seventy, we shall discover, is scriptural code for judgment and justice. Note that at this stage in Israel’s history, there were no “commandments and statutes.” Mount Sinai (a.k.a. Horeb) was still in the future. The only “commandment” they had been given at this stage was to trust Him. I would submit to you that we—all of us—are still well advised to “diligently listen to the voice of Yahweh our God,” and to “do what is right in His eyes.”
The second mention of palm trees in scripture delineates one of those “statutes” Israel was to keep. Palm trees play a small but significant role in the elaborate pantomime that is the Feast of Tabernacles—the final and most joyous of the seven convocations on Yahweh’s annual calendar. Yahweh told Moses to command Israel, “On the fifteenth day of this seventh month [that would be Tishri, in the fall] and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to Yahweh.” Palm trees (the fronds) would be used to build these “booths,” along with several other types of vegetation, all of which are fraught with symbolism. “On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. For seven days you shall present offerings by fire to Yahweh. On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to Yahweh. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work.” (Leviticus 23:34-36) Coming as it does at the end of Yahweh’s annual series of holy convocations—after the days symbolizing the death of the Messiah, the removal of our sins as He lay in the tomb, His resurrection, the indwelling of His called out assembly with the Holy Spirit, the transformation of believers, both living and dead, into the immortal state, and the reawakening and restoration of Israel—the Feast of Tabernacles is a prophecy of the only thing left on Yahweh’s agenda: God coming to dwell—to encamp—personally among men.
This is the seventh of the seven convocations—in other words, the Sabbath of the series, the day of rest Yahweh has been promising humanity since the very beginning. “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of Yahweh seven days.” These seven days represent, I surmise, the totality of Christ’s Millennial kingdom—the whole thousand year period in which King Yahshua will reign upon the earth. “On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest.” (Leviticus 23:39) Unlike the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread (which symbolized the complete removal of our sins from us) this is an eight day celebration. The eighth day, I believe, is prophetic of the eternal state, when corruption has finally given way to immortality for all of God’s children. It is, in the end, the day of which Yahshua spoke when healing a man who (like us, in a way) was born blind: “We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4-5)
So why is this celebration called “the Feast of Tabernacles,” or “the Feast of Booths?” It’s because the Israelites were instructed to act out before all of mankind the very thing God Himself intends to do during the Millennial kingdom: to “camp out” among us. We believers speak casually about “going to heaven” when we die, but in technical terms, we’ll actually find that “heaven” has come to us. That’s the scene being acted out. Although the Israelites in the Promised Land had perfectly good homes to live in, they were instructed to go to “the place where Yahweh had caused His name to abide” (Jerusalem, in literal terms, but in fact, our own souls) and build temporary shelters for this one week during the year. “And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before Yahweh your God seven days….” The instruction to build their shelters on the first day of the Feast must have driven later rabbis nuts, since that day was, by definition, a Sabbath. When Yahshua told us that the Sabbath was made for man (and not the other way around) this is the kind of thing He was talking about. At the same time, the Israelites were commanded to rejoice. This is even more remarkable than it might seem, in light of the holiday’s juxtaposition (only five days prior to this) with the Day of Atonement—whose primary directive was to “afflict their souls” (Hebrew anah, also properly translated “to answer, respond, or testify as a witness.”) “You shall celebrate it as a feast to Yahweh for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am Yahweh your God.’” (Leviticus 23:40-43)
Since it is our primary purpose here to examine the palm trees of scripture, let us go back and take a closer look at these four orders of “building materials” Yahweh specified for the Israelites’ temporary booths. Listed first is “the fruit of splendid [or beautiful] trees.” The adjective splendid (or beautiful) is from the Hebrew verb hadar, meaning to honor, adorn, or make glorious. Not surprisingly, this is a word used to describe the return of Yahweh (in the persona of Yahshua) to the earth a few days before the Feast of Tabernacles: “Who is this who comes from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah, this One who is glorious [hadar] in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength?—‘I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.’” (Isaiah 63:1) And consider this: “His glory is great in your salvation [that’s Yâshuw`ah (יְשׁוּעָה)—phonetically equivalent to the Messiah’s given name]; honor and majesty [hadar] you have placed upon Him.” (Psalm 21:5) The first “tree,” then, represents King Yahshua, and its “fruit” (Hebrew pariy, meaning fruit, produce, offspring, children, or progeny) is us—we who are privileged through grace to be called “children of God” (see I John 3:1-2). Thus we have been given our first hint: the “trees” from which the booths were to be constructed would seem to represent (if the metaphor pans out) the citizens of the Millennial kingdom, beginning with the King.
Next on the list is the “branches of palm trees.” As we have already deduced from Psalm 92:12, palm trees are symbolic of the righteous—a group that (since righteousness before Yahweh is a gift given to those who trust Him, who are then called by His name) is coterminous with the “offspring” of the “splendid tree” (i.e., us believers in Yahshua). So far, we’re in perfect agreement.
The third “building material” is “the boughs of leafy trees.” The adjective abot means thick with leaves, dense with foliage. The word is derived from abat, a verb that means “to weave together, to conspire, to wrap up, to intertwine something.” Who are these who conspire together, who are woven or intertwined into one in the context of the Millennium? None other than Israel and the ekklesia—the called out assembly of Christ, a.k.a. the church. Remember, the final “seven” of the Daniel 9 prophecy (commonly known as the Tribulation) will be concluded with the inauguration of Christ’s Millennial kingdom. That is, at this point Yahweh is no longer dealing exclusively with Israel. But He’s not dealing exclusively with the church, either, as He has for the better part of two thousand years now. No, as the Millennium gets underway, both Israel and the raptured (now-immortal) church are seen side by side, united but distinct, working shoulder to shoulder. The ekklesia has not absorbed—or replaced—Israel, nor has the church become part of Israel in any literal sense. Rather, we are entwined like branches grafted into the same divine tree (see Romans 11), or woven together like the warp and woof of one magnificent tapestry, created by and for the glory of Yahweh.
If that seems like a stretch, read on. The fourth and final specified booth building material, “willows of the brook,” fits perfectly with that characterization. The Hebrew noun ereb denotes a willow or poplar tree. (“Of the brook” leans the meaning toward the “willow” designation, because willow trees thrive in damp-root environments: they love “wet feet.”) A virtually identical noun, however (with the same consonant root), means “a mixture, a mixed company, interwoven. The primary meaning is a grouping of people from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It was used of the heterogeneous band associated with the nation of Israel as it departed from Egypt…” (Baker and Carpenter) The word also means “woof,” as in the threads that cross and interweave with the warp in a fabric. This explains why ereb is used in Exodus 12:38 to describe the “mixed” gentile multitude that believed in Yahweh and left Egypt along with the Israelites in the exodus. The two groups were interwoven, interdependent, and symbiotic. Though their identities and heritage were different, their destinies were henceforth inextricable.
Together, then, the four trees listed in Leviticus 23:40 signify the populace of the Millennial Kingdom of our Messiah, beginning with the glorious King, Yahshua himself, and including His “children,” the righteous who will flourish in His courts: those of Israel and every other nation who have “conspired” together to love and honor Yahweh in truth and trust—every believer from every age, from Adam until the last child born during the Millennium.
It is with mixed feelings that we read this notice: “On the second day the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law.” The people here are the exiles returning from captivity in Babylon. It is good, of course, that they wished to study the Torah; but heartbreaking that they had never done so before, not for many generations. But while life lasts, it’s not too late to reconnect with Yahweh. “And they found it written in the Law that Yahweh had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem, ‘Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written….’” I, for one, am willing to cut them some slack for being a little “loose” in their interpretation of the Leviticus 23 specifications. They were using what they could find, in the spirit of obedience. Remember, after centuries of rebellion, the Land of Promise was no longer what you’d call “the land of milk and honey.” It had been ravaged by drought and invasion. In particular, I’d imagine “willows of the brook” would be practically nonexistent by this time. But desert-thriving date palms were still around, as were olive trees and myrtles—which we’ll discuss later in this chapter: they introduce a revised symbology all their own, appropriate to the repentant ex-exiles.
Anyway, they did the best they could to perform the Torah’s mandate, even though they couldn’t possibly have known what it meant. The lesson there is that we too should obey the voice of Yahweh, even if we can’t figure out what it might do for us. It’s a trust issue, once again. Yahweh sees the whole picture, but we perceive only a small part of it: trust Him to know what’s best. “So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim….” Here we’re given some insight on where the booths were to be erected—anywhere in Jerusalem but in their normal homes: this was a campout. The temple had been rebuilt by this time, albeit modestly indeed when compared to Solomon’s magnificent edifice. Jerusalem had been established in the time of David as “the place where Yahweh your God chooses to make His name abide,” the place the Torah commanded every Israelite male in the Land to visit three times a year—this being one of those occasions.
“And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing.” (Nehemiah 8:13-17) The bad news was that the Israelites—the whole nation—had neglected to observe the Law of Moses, and in particular the Feast of Tabernacles, since their very first generation had settled in the Land. That’s a rather depressing statistic: it means that even during Israel’s national spiritual awakening under King David, the glory days of temple worship under Solomon, and the reforms of such good kings as Hezekiah and Josiah, the Feasts of Yahweh (or at least this one—arguably the most far-reaching) were never celebrated as the Torah prescribed. The good news was that now, under Nehemiah, they purposed to right the wrongs. Once again, we see the transition from the Day of Atonement, the “affliction of the soul” over their past sins, being supplanted by the rejoicing of the Feast of Tabernacles. And that story was facilitated, in part, by the palm tree—a symbol of righteousness.
There is one location in the Promised Land that has been associated from earliest antiquity with palm trees. That place is the city of Jericho. In case you’re geographically challenged, this city is situated eight or ten miles due north of the Dead Sea, overlooking the plain of the Jordan River, in the West Bank. It is only about fifteen miles from Jerusalem, but there is a three thousand foot elevation drop from Jerusalem to Jericho. In fact, Jericho (at 853 feet below sea level) is the lowest city on earth. It is also one of the oldest. (The surface of the Dead Sea, for reference, is 1,388 feet below sea level—which explains why it’s “dead.”)
Although Moses wasn’t allowed to lead his people into the promised land because of his gaffe at Kadesh (see Numbers 20:9-13), he was allowed to see it before he died—from a mountaintop on the eastern side of the Jordan River. “Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And Yahweh showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the Valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar.” That’s quite a view. But Yahweh may have been providing some “visionary” assistance, because Mount Nebo, at an elevation of 2,680 feet above sea level, is about the same height as Jerusalem (ranging from 2,133 to 2,756 feet), theoretically blocking the view to the “western sea,” the Mediterranean. (Pisgah, by the way, simply means “high place.”) At any rate, probably the closest feature Moses saw was the city of Jericho, identified here as “the city of palm trees.” There are still lots of date palms in the vicinity. “And Yahweh said to him, ‘This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, “I will give it to your offspring.” I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.’” (Deuteronomy 34:1-4) At a hundred and twenty years of age, I’m guessing Moses wasn’t too terribly disappointed that his battles in this world were almost over. And he was doubtless saddened to know (having delivered the prophecies himself—see Deuteronomy 30-31) that this nation would eventually be driven out of this glorious land because of their refusal to heed Yahweh’s word.
But he reiterates here that God had promised the land to Israel’s forefathers. It belonged to Israel, even though there would be times when they would not be allowed (because of their rebellion) to live in it. The point I want to make is that Jericho today is in what is known as the West Bank—that is, it was Jordanian territory before they lost it to Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, the direct result of their own illegal aggression. If there were any justice in the world, there would be no question of Israel’s legal suzerainty over these lands. But the indigenous Arab Muslims (who call themselves Palestinians, though there is no such thing as a separate and distinct “Palestinian” people) insist that the land belongs to them, even though they lost it due to their own belligerence. It’s kind of like the Germans coming back and saying that Paris should rightfully belong to them, just because they held it for a while in the 1940s. It’s a ludicrous position to take. Israel, however, in a futile effort to pacify world opinion, is bending over backward to mollify their Arab subjects. And so to this day, Jericho is under the control of Muslim warlords who run the place like their own private fiefdom.
As I observed in our discussion of “salt” a few hundred pages back, Jericho, the “city of palms,” shares a lot of imagery in common with the rapture of the church. (1) The “blowing and shouting” that brought its walls down (Joshua 6) is the same picture drawn by the fifth (and next) holy convocation of Yahweh—the Feast of Trumpets, or Yom Teruah—echoed again in the prophecies describing the rapture. (2) Elijah’s fiery transformation, the rapture dress-rehearsal witnessed by Elisha, took place near the city of palms. (3) Jericho’s destruction was sealed with a curse upon the children of whomever would rebuild the city (compare Joshua 6:26 to I Kings 16:34)—just as surely as the rapture will signal Yahweh’s impending wrath upon the world: life will not go on as usual in the world in the wake of the translation of the saints. And he who ignores the ramifications of the rapture will be cursing his own children. (4) While Elijah’s “rapture” is prophetic of the church of Philadelphia, the next-to-last church on Yahshua’s mailing list in Revelation 2 and 3, Elisha’s role (as witness of the event and receiver of Elijah’s mantle) will prove to be analogous to the final church, that of Laodicea, who will come to faith only after the rapture, left behind to face the music in a world all but bereft of faith.
If we cross reference all of that with the fact that Jericho is known as the city of palms, and that palm trees represent righteousness, the truth emerges that the world will be a very different place after the rapture: even the pretense of righteousness will be a thing of the past. Whether we understand it or not, this cryptic passage from Isaiah describes the times: “The righteous perishes, and no man takes it to heart. Merciful men are taken away, while no one considers that the righteous is taken away from evil. He shall enter into peace; they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness.” (Isaiah 57:1-2) Amplified to reveal their full meaning, these verses declare the stunning truth: “The one who is just (tsadiq), lawful, righteous, and vindicated before God [these would be the belatedly repentant neo-Laodicean Christians] perishes (abad), dies, is put to death and exterminated, and nobody places this fact upon his heart (leb), mind, understanding or knowledge.”
And why are evil men allowed such latitude during these evil times? It’s because Yahweh has already gathered His “Philadelphian” saints to Himself, meaning in turn that the restraining power of the Holy Spirit is no longer in evidence in the world (see II Thessalonians 2:7) as the Tribulation begins. “Men of mercy (checed), goodness, kindness, faithfulness, and unfailing devotion are taken away (’asaph), gathered, brought together, assembled, withdrawn, or assembled as a rear guard, while no one considers (biyn), understands, discerns or perceives that these righteous people (tsadiq) have been taken away (’asaph), gathered or withdrawn from evil (raah), wickedness, adversity, misfortune, affliction, calamity, disaster, distress, and trouble.”
That, in case you missed it, is a picture of the rapture, first of those saints who have perished and then of those still alive. The world will have no idea what happened to the millions of living believers who suddenly disappeared on Yom Teruah—the Feast of Trumpets—in some future year. They will presume that we have all died (though we left no corpses behind), but the fact is that we will have been gathered together by God, rescued from the calamity to come, because we have already “kept Yahshua’s command to persevere” (as it’s put in Revelation 3:10). “He [the raptured saint] shall enter into (bow), come to, attain, be brought or introduced to peace (shalowm), safety, prosperity, and contentment; they shall rest (nuach), repose, and be quiet on their beds, each one walking (halak), going, following, or behaving in his uprightness (nakoah), straightness, or rightness.” So, as subtle as it is, the concept of the rapture is paralleled from beginning to end by symbol of the palm tree—from the imagery of the city of Jericho to the uprightness in which we will walk as raptured saints.
Let us then take a glance at a few other places where Jericho is described in scripture as “the city of palms.” We should bear in mind that when Joshua’s army breached Jericho’s walls, killed its inhabitants and burned the city, they didn’t make it uninhabitable. The date palm trees—according to Yahweh’s general directive—were left standing, and the wells (as far as we know) continued to provide water. What they had done, basically, was to transform Jericho from a defensible (and defiant) walled city into an open oasis. The area fell to Benjamin as a tribal inheritance (as did Jerusalem). So, perhaps forty years after the Israelites entered the Land, we see this scene: “And the descendants of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up with the people of Judah from the city of palms into the wilderness of Judah, which lies in the Negeb near Arad, and they went and settled with the people.” (Judges 1:16) Moses’ father-in-law, of course, was a gentile—Jethro, the priest of Midian. But as with the mighty Caleb (whose father was a Kennezite—of Edomite descent) Jethro’s descendants had joined themselves to Israel as part of the “mixed multitude” during the wilderness wanderings. Both families (Caleb’s and Jethro’s) had become part of the tribe of Judah. So as the Land was settled, it became appropriate for them to settle not near Benjamin’s Jericho, but forty miles south, in the Negev—Judah’s tribal territory. Interestingly, the king of Arad had gone out of his way to harass the wilderness generation, and Yahweh had granted His people total victory over these Canaanites—utterly destroying their cities (see Numbers 21:1-3). It was a preview of the sort of victory that could always be Israel’s if only they would honor Yahweh and keep His instructions.
But alas, it was not to be: “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh, and Yahweh strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of Yahweh. He gathered to himself the Ammonites and the Amalekites, and went and defeated Israel. And they took possession of the city of palms. And the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.” (Judges 3:12-14) Caleb’s nephew Othniel had judged Israel for forty years, but when he died, the people quickly reverted to their evil ways. It is grimly poetic that Jericho, the city of palms—or, in our symbolic parlance, the oasis of righteousness—was removed from Israel’s control when they ceased striving to be righteous. While it’s true that none of us can achieve perfect righteousness in our own strength, it is still up to us to try. It’s a matter of free will. The sacrifices of the Torah (all of which were fulfilled in the life of Christ) are of no use to us if we don’t want to walk with Yahweh.
Fast forward six hundred years or so. Judah under King Ahaz has become so corrupt, Yahweh uses both Aram (Syria) and Israel’s northern kingdom (a.k.a. Ephraim) to knock him down a peg or two. The soldiers of Ephraim captured two hundred thousand Judean men, women, and children, intending to use (or sell) them as slaves. But when they got back to Samaria with their prize, a prophet of Yahweh, Oded by name, informed them that they had overstepped their mandate: they had been authorized by Yahweh to sting Judah, not bludgeon it into oblivion. And the leading men of Ephraim, to their credit, repented. “Certain chiefs also of the men of Ephraim…stood up against those who were coming from the war and said to them, ‘You shall not bring the captives in here, for you propose to bring upon us guilt against Yahweh in addition to our present sins and guilt. For our guilt is already great, and there is fierce wrath against Israel.’ So the armed men left the captives and the spoil before the princes and all the assembly. And the men…rose and took the captives, and with the spoil they clothed all who were naked among them. They clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them, and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kinsfolk at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria.” (II Chronicles 28:12-15) The whole thing is an elaborate object lesson: Yahweh’s rod of correction is designed to humble us, not crush or enslave us. In the end, our well deserved affliction is intended to return us in mercy to the city of palm trees—the place of righteousness.
As described by the prophet Joel (whose name means “Yahweh is God”), the afflictions to be suffered by Israel blend seamlessly from “natural” disasters to foreign invaders to the ultimate “Day of Yahweh.” Each plague seems to be a dress rehearsal for what can be expected next if they (that is, we) don’t repent and return to Yahweh. So he says, “Be ashamed, you farmers. Wail, you vinedressers, for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field has perished. The vine has dried up, and the fig tree has withered. The pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree—all the trees of the field are withered. Surely joy has withered away from the sons of men.” (Joel 1:11-12) In the near term, droughts and swarms of locusts would be sent to get Israel’s attention—as had been promised in Deuteronomy 28:38-42. In the long run, the lessons will apply throughout man’s history—right up until the end of the Great Tribulation. Many of the fruit-bearing plants mentioned here hold prominent places in The Torah Code, as we shall see. Our current subject, the palm tree—symbolic of righteousness—tells us that our very ability to pursue righteousness will be compromised by our refusal to repent. As the Pharaoh of the exodus discovered, Yahweh has been known to “harden people’s hearts,” to set in stone those bad attitudes that we ourselves have chosen to embrace. We may imagine we have a handle on truth, but “good without God” is a dangerous myth. Without deference to the word of Yahweh, our best intentions are nothing but withered palm trees.
In all of the excruciating detail concerning the design and construction of the original wilderness tabernacle, no mention is made of using palm trees as an ornamental motif. But this isn’t true of Solomon’s temple. There are five scriptural mentions of palm trees being used as decorative elements by Solomon. One example: “Then Solomon began to build the house of Yahweh in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where Yahweh had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite…. He overlaid it on the inside with pure gold. The nave he lined with cypress and covered it with fine gold and made palms [Hebrew: timorah, based on the ordinary word for a literal palm tree, tamar, but denoting architectural ornamentation] and chains on it.” The word for “chains” is derived from a verb meaning “to take root.” “He adorned the house with settings of precious stones. The gold was gold of Parvaim [literally, “oriental reigions”]. So he lined the house with gold—its beams, its thresholds, its walls, and its doors—and he carved cherubim on the walls.” (II Chronicles 3:1, 4-7) Perhaps it’s a stretch, but we could be seeing a symbolic indication that whereas the wilderness tabernacle was designed to be movable—broken down and carried from place to place as the Holy Spirit led—the temple was, like the palm tree, something that wouldn’t move about. Yahweh had chosen this place atop Mount Moriah to be the place where He would, symbolically anyway, “put down roots,” where He’d picture Himself as being “chained” to one location (which would explain why Satan so obviously covets Jerusalem). In literal, geographical terms, this was the place He had spoken of so often in the Torah, the “place where Yahweh your God will choose to make His name abide.”
More detail is provided in I Kings. We should pay attention to the symbolic elements: the passage is peppered with them. “Around all the walls of the house he carved engraved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms….” Cherubim remind us of Yahweh’s constant angelic care over His people. Palm trees, as usual, speak of righteousness (but with the added twist, as we have seen, of having put down roots in God’s chosen place). And open flowers speak eloquently of the continuation of life, of fertility and fruitfulness. “For the entrance to the inner sanctuary he made doors of olivewood.” The olive motif is symbolic of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. “The lintel and the doorposts were five-sided.” Since four-sided would have been “normal,” we must ask ourselves why. Five is the number of grace. “He covered the two doors of olivewood with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. He overlaid them with gold and spread gold on the cherubim and on the palm trees.” Gold speaks of immutable purity. “So also he made for the entrance to the nave doorposts of olivewood, in the form of a square, and two doors of cypress wood.” Maybe I’m “off my game,” but I can’t discern any consistent symbolic scriptural usage for the word translated “cypress,” the Hebrew beros—a fir, cypress, juniper, or pine tree, a generic conifer. But for what it’s worth, they’re often mentioned in parallel with cedars (signifying strength). “The two leaves of the one door were folding, and the two leaves of the other door were folding. On them he carved cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, and he overlaid them with gold evenly applied on the carved work.” (I Kings 6:29, 31-35)
We might be tempted to “write off” the symbolic use of palm trees in Solomon’s temple as mere architectural whimsy, but for one thing: they are also mentioned—eleven times—in the prophetic specifications for the Millennial temple, revealed to the prophet Ezekiel. Chapter 40 describes the outer and inner court—the exterior areas of the temple environs. “And the gateway had windows all around, narrowing inwards toward the side rooms and toward their jambs, and likewise the vestibule had windows all around inside, and on the jambs were palm trees…. And its windows, its vestibule, and its palm trees were of the same size as those of the gate that faced toward the east…. And there were seven steps leading up to it, and its vestibule was before them, and it had palm trees on its jambs, one on either side…. Its vestibule faced the outer court, and palm trees were on its jambs, and its stairway had eight steps.” (Ezekiel 40:16, 22, 26, 31) If our observation (that palm trees signify righteousness) has merit, then it is clear that you won’t be able to get anywhere near the ultimate temple without being confronted with the need for righteousness at every turn. The palm tree motif is everywhere you look.
The same is true, not surprisingly, for the temple structure itself, described in chapter 41. “And on all the walls all around, inside and outside, was a measured pattern. It was carved of cherubim and palm trees, a palm tree between cherub and cherub. Every cherub had two faces: a human face [reminding us of Yahshua’s first advent] toward the palm tree on the one side, and the face of a young lion [read: authority—a symbol of the Messiah’s second advent] toward the palm tree on the other side.” The message here seems to be that both in humility or in glory, Yahshua is He who provides and guards our righteousness. “They were carved on the whole temple all around. From the floor to above the door, cherubim and palm trees were carved; similarly the wall of the nave…. And on the doors of the nave were carved cherubim and palm trees, such as were carved on the walls. And there was a canopy of wood in front of the vestibule outside. And there were narrow windows and palm trees on either side, on the sidewalls of the vestibule, the side chambers of the temple, and the canopies.” (Ezekiel 41:17-20, 25-26) It’s interesting to see cherubim and palm trees appearing together so frequently. Yahweh is apparently trying to teach us about the connection between our righteousness and His own personal involvement in securing it for us. We can’t become righteous without His help.
One final “palm tree sighting” needs to be addressed. The Song of Solomon is either a Millennial allegory explaining the depth of Yahshua’s love for His called-out church (and how this visceral relationship corresponds to Yahshua’s bond with Israel), or it’s one of the oddest pieces of literature ever penned. I think you can guess where I stand on that question. Here too the palm tree is recruited as a symbolic element. In steamy purple prose, Solomon (representing the Messiah-King) whispers to his beloved Shulamite maiden (i.e., the church): “How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights! Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit. Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine.” (Song of Solomon 7:6-9) Christ doesn’t just tolerate His church. We are not a duty, a burden, or an afterthought to Him. He loves us, rather, with a passion, a physical desire, that only young lovers could possibly understand.
And what does the palm tree metaphor tell us? It reveals that He sees us as desirable, upright, righteous, fruitful and sweet. Apparently, love is blind.
“How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights! Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit. Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine.”